It's fun to watch Deion Jones continue to develop as a player
I remember the opening of training camp in 2016. Deion Jones was the rookie middle linebacker, obviously drafted to play. He's got speed to get to the ball, close on guys and do all of those types of things. Well, they put on him out there in camp, and a back goes in motion and he doesn't go with him. I could hear linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, "You've gotta go with the back Debo! You've gotta go with the back!" And you could see Deion thinking as he runs out to get on the back.
To see where's come today, where he's guarding guys outside the numbers, he's on the wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, he's all over the field to make 13 tackles. His speed wowed everybody tonight. His play was exemplary, period.
It's fun to watch a guy who is as good a guy as you will ever meet, playing one of the most violent positions in the game, realizing his potential. I hope the other players realize how good he is and vote him into the Pro Bowl, which is where he is supposed to be.
Deion's rapid progression showed on the game-winning interception
I asked him after the game what made his head get around that quick to see the ball. He said, 'I just felt, when I saw that set, that they were going to try me because I was singled on the tight end (Josh Hill). And I knew that once I got to a certain depth that I needed to key on Hill's eyes, and as soon as he looked for the ball, I looked'. That's part of his training that he goes back to.
Think about that, he's only 23-years old, to be able to translate the experience from about 30 NFL games in real time to make that adjustment and get his head turned around and make the play of the game. He picked Drew Brees off last year and returned it for a touchdown, and he picked him off to win this game. The expectation level was so high for him, and he's met that expectation. How many guys are able to do that? He certainly has.
On the impact of Kamara's absence on the Saints offense
The Saints are a two-headed monster in the run game, and that extends to their passing game. You're taking a guy in Alvin Kamara off the field that has 600 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving. The other running back, Mark Ingram, has over 1,200 yards from scrimmage too.
But Kamara is the explosive guy. He's the new Darren Sproles in this offense. When you look at this offense, they haven't been the same since Sproles left. They have been a non-playoff team that has struggled to find that go-to guy in the short-intermediate area, that one-on-matchup guy. That's who Kamara is. And that offense loses some of those elements when he's not in there.
Poe made one of several big defensive plays that deserve being mentioned
Everyone will be talking about the play Deion made at the end, but Atlanta's defense made a ton of big plays in this game. One that won't be talked about as much was Dontari Poe's sack late in the third quarter. It came on third down and it was a big play because it got the Saints offense off the field at a time when they had a chance to possibly take control.
It was one of the only times that Atlanta used extra pressure. They had been using a four man pass rush and dropping seven into coverage. I think it may have been the first time in the game that the Falcons brought extra guys on the rush. They brought Brian Poole and De'Vondre Campbell through the middle of New Orleans' offensive line, which forced them to man up one-on-one across the line.
That put Dontari Poe singled up against Saints right guard Larry Warford. You can't block Grady Jarrett or Poe one-one-one. Poe took advantage of the singled up opportunity and got to the quarterback.
At that point in the game, Atlanta was down 17-10 and their offense was struggling. A score there would have put the Saints up by 14 going into the fourth quarter.
Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore had position on first interception
On the first interception, Julio Jones was trying to get to the inside, but Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore was playing a hard inside technique. In that case, the corner is allowed his ground there, that's why there was no illegal contact penalty. He had the inside positioning on that, so it wasn't a good decision by Matt.
In that situation, he's normally going to throw the ball out of bounds, or he's going to rotate his vision and find somebody else. And Matt knows that, he knows he's got to make a different throw in that scenario. And fortunately it didn't end up costing the Falcons in this case because of the odd ending to the first half.
The interception in the end zone should have been a jump ball
New Orleans rolled the safety over to take Julio. It was a two-deep look with the corner playing underneath and the safety playing over the top, so Julio is essentially being doubled on the play. Ryan skates out of the pocket and Julio signals for Ryan to throw him a jump ball. Matt tried to do that, he just threw it short. Ultimately, if the throw is off in that situation you have to consider it a bad decision. If he high points the ball in the air where only Julio can go get it in the back corner, then you've put your talented receiver in position to make a play, but that didn't happen here.
On the offense bouncing back when it mattered
There were a couple of keys to the offense coming to life in the fourth quarter. Number one is Matt Ryan staying in the moment. He had just thrown three interceptions and the Falcons were really struggling on offense at that time in the game. And part of that was on Matt's shoulders.
So where do you go from there? Ryan shakes that off. He's really good at compartmentalizing those moments so that 'nothing exists except what I'm doing right now.' He does a good job of pushing that away so that that isn't still haunting him later in the game to the point where he's thinking 'I can't throw another pick.' He doesn't even know he's thrown an interception. That's really hard to do. Only the elite guys can do that.
And then, it was a really good job by the offensive line to take control of the line of scrimmage. Atlanta's offensive line was coming and playing on New Orleans' side of the line of scrimmage. The Saints defense tried to play two high safeties and limit Atlanta's receivers, but you're not going to stop the run with a six or seven man front against Atlanta's running backs. So now, they're playing with one safety high and rolling the other safety down to the box for an eight-man front, and Atlanta was still running the ball against them.
That takes your soul as a defense when a team takes the ball and is still running it at you when you've got eight men in the box. There were even a number of times when the Falcons were in a three receiver set and the Saints had eight in the box. I mean, that's hard to do. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran extremely hard and it was an incredible effort by the offensive line.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Atlanta's offense had been held scoreless on four straight drives, including three interceptions. So it was a pretty resilient performance to see them bounce back with the two scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
Pre-game storylines were about offense, but the Falcons defense were the story of this game
The low point total in this game did surprise me. The story is probably more about the Falcons defense. This was a New Orleans Saints offense that came in averaging 29.4 points per game, ranked third in the league in scoring offense and they had just put up 31 points on a good Panthers team.
Atlanta's defense surrendered a short field touchdown to start the second half following the second interception. Then they shut the door on the Saints offense from there on out. That's a really good offense that's got a lot of weapons, the Falcons defense did an excellent job against them today.
That group gave a resilient Atlanta offense time to find their footing and eventually take the lead back. The best way I can say it is the defense held onto the rope as tight as they could until the offense got back on track and eventually that leads to the win.